At the beginning of the academic year, it was clear that transparency would be a buzzword of sorts, since the decision to take away the DSAs dominated the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark’s (ASLC) senate debate. When a grant that had helped fund the Counseling Center for five years was running out, the administration was unable to continue funding the center at its full capacity; ASLC ended up donating a large amount of money to help fund the center and demonstrate that mental health was a priority for students. The center’s lack of funding was not initially communicated by the administration; instead, Associate Dean of Students for Health and Wellness John Hancock told ASLC back in 2017. It seemed it was important to involve students to the extent that they may provide financial support. But the school’s issues with transparency ended up extending beyond the student body. Shortly after, it was revealed that the Board of Trustees was not fully aware of the Counseling Center crisis, or the removal of the DSAs. Lewis & Clark is a great institution but appears reluctant to distribute information publicly, and ultimately is worse off because of it.
It is no secret to students that LC used to be in a difficult financial situation; with rises in tuition and the limiting of certain services, changes over the past few years have been evident. I understand that these changes are necessary, but I take issue with the lack of information about our developing fiscal fiascos. Without any information sent directly to students, the administration informed the faculty that they were facing a four million dollar deficit in wake of “Classzilla” graduating. When students are not provided the information necessary to understand LC’s finances, the present situation appears dire; it is frustrating that students are left with an incomplete picture of what the problem is as it mainly translates into the rise of tuition and fees. The new budget issues will likely affect faculty the most, with more limited funds for each department in regard to hiring adjunct and visiting professors as well as the classes that will be offered. Students will see cuts especially in study abroad programs that are no longer available, or that have smaller capacities than initially advertised.
I would say that most students are aware that faculty are not paid enough. This is a prevailing issue in education, but when professors cite pay as a deciding factor in leaving LC, like Associate Professor and Chair of International Affairs Heather Smith-Cannoy did, it is evident that the administration should have fixed the problem sooner. We are nothing without our faculty, and it frightens me as a student that this could become a trend. Over 90 percent of our overall expenses go to paying our personnel, so why does this remain an issue? On the topic of leave, it seems that there is somewhat of an exodus within the administration itself. Vice President and Dean for Enrollment Management Lisa Meyer, Associate Vice President for Admissions Erica Johnson and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Mathematics Naiomi Cameron have all announced that they will be leaving. These individuals are high-ranking administrative officials, and their departures, creating the appearance of a mass exodus, worries me further. The administration has already seen its fair share of turnover, but now with several higher-ups leaving, it signals to me that something has gone wrong. It is hard for any institution to handle transition successfully, but when it is already in a difficult financial situation any disruption or lapse in communication can be significant.
I do not think that my fear is misplaced, nor do I believe that I am drawing connections where there are none. The problem is, without any acknowledgment from the administration that these issues are even happening, students, parents, faculty and staff are left to draw conclusions for themselves. Ultimately, transparency is a difficult thing for an institution to master, but ours seems reluctant to try.